OHS Canada Magazine

News

Federal court rejects airline amendment of evacuation procedures

CUPE demands Sunwing Airlines restore flight-attendant ratio


(Canadian OH&S News) — Transport Canada (TC) has come under fire from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which charged in a Feb. 5 press release that the transport ministry had ignored its own safety mandates for aircraft in passing an amendment to the Sunwing Airlines Flight Attendant Manual regarding emergency evacuation.

The union, which represents about 1,000 flight attendants with the airline, cited a federal court decision from the first week of February stating that TC had failed to initiate a full evaluation of the risk assessment Sunwing had conducted regarding potential hazards of changes in its evacuation procedure. The amendment stemmed from a proposed reduction of the ratio of working flight attendants to seated passengers, from one per 40 to one per 50.

In a test, Sunwing was required to show that its crews could still evacuate a plane in 15 seconds or less in an emergency situation, even with fewer flight attendants. The airline conducted three tests on November 22 and 27, 2013 and failed them all. After TC inspector Luc Mayne recommended that the Flight Attendant Manual drop the “blocking command” — a procedure in which the crew orders two passengers to hold others back — Sunwing conducted a fourth test without it and passed.

CUPE requested a judicial review of TC’s approval of the manual change in Dec. 2013, and the court later ruled that the transport ministry had been hasty to approve the amendment, while ordering Sunwing to restore the blocking command.

“The failure to conduct the required ‘comprehensive review’ casts doubt on the integrity of the ultimate decision and has the potential to undermine confidence in the application of Transport Canada’s air passenger safety mandate,” read the official court decision on the amendment, as quoted in the CUPE release. “This failure could jeopardize passenger and crew safety in an emergency situation.”

The purpose of the blocking command, according to CUPE, is to keep passengers from stampeding the door and reaching it before the flight attendant does. A number of potential hazards to both crew and passengers can result from the lack of a blocking command, regardless of the speed of evacuation.

Michel Cournoyer, the president of CUPE’s airline division, said in a press statement that Sunwing was now obligated to restore the blocking-command procedure to the manual as per the court’s decision.

“Transport Canada should also fulfill its air passenger safety mandate by scrapping the one-to-50 regulation and restoring the safety-proven one-to-40 ratio on all Canadian airlines,” added Cournoyer.

Based in Toronto, with additional offices in Montreal and Surrey, B.C., Sunwing specializes in holiday packages throughout North America, the Caribbean and Europe.